Uncovering The History Of Surfing

We've been able to trace the origins of most modern sports. However, surfing continues to elude us. Despite research and archaeological studies from around the globe, it's still impossible to determine when surfing began. Most enthusiasts believe surfing originated thousands of years ago, steeped in cultures that used the sport as a connection to religion, position in the tribe and even challenges to authority. Evidence uncovered by researchers implies that surfing was enjoyed by ancient Polynesian societies.

Our understanding of surfing's history dramatically expanded after an entry was found in Captain Cook's journal. Written in 1779, the account detailed Hawaiian tribesmen using oval pieces of board to balance while transporting themselves upon the waves. The description even suggested that the ease with which the tribesmen rode the waves could lead one to think they were amphibious. Surfing has always been shrouded by mystery and intrigue. Below, we'll explore how it evolved from being the sport of kings and queens to captivate the world.

Rooted In Polynesian Culture

Western Polynesian tribes are credited with being the first people to use wooden boards to surf the waves. It's widely-thought that fishermen became skilled at surfing as a way to catch more fish. With time, surfing transformed into a sport, enjoyed by everyone within the tribe. The most skilled surfers were given special privileges, including using the same beaches as the tribe's chief. In a way, the sport became an equalizer among men in Polynesian tribes. Those who could prove their mettle on the water were given a status beyond their normal position within the tribe.

The Missionaries Come

In 1821, the Polynesians were visited by Christian missionaries. Because the tribes' culture was so entrenched in surfing, the missionaries feared they felt a religious connection to the sport. In converting the Polynesians from polytheism to Christianity, the missionaries eventually prohibited surfing. They felt it encouraged the Polynesians to revert back to their old ways. Some of the missionaries felt that surfing itself was a sinful act. By the end of the 19th century, surfing - which had been enjoyed for thousands of years - was all but extinguished from the culture.

The Popularization Of Surfing

At the turn of the 20th century, many Hawaiians began to enjoy surfing again. They sought to breathe new life into the sport. Many experts feel that it was in direct opposition to the sport's ban at the hands of the missionaries. In 1905, a young man named Duke Kahanamoku started a surfing club with several friends. They eventually became known as the "Beach Boys of Waikiki" and are credited with relaunching the sport back into mainstream Hawaiian culture. During the years that followed, surfing was introduced to California. Demonstrations by surfing experts unleashed a massive amount of interest in the sport. Before long, surfing spread across the state and a new sport was launched.

Surfing Today

Today, California, Australia and Hawaii are the most popular surfing locations. Not only do they attract the most aggressive, ambitious surfers alive, but competitions are often hosted there. They offer many of the most dangerous waves and draw spectators from around the world. Though surfing was once on the precipice of becoming extinct, it now enjoys an immense following. It has infiltrated our popular culture, becoming a staple of television programs and movies. Despite its recent tumultuous past, surfing continues to be an essential part of our contemporary culture.